Music club

The haunting melodies of Calicut Kalamandir, a music club run by Valiyangadi workers

Calicut Kalamandir Music Club is a place where a few music lovers, most of whom work at Valiyangadi market in Kozhikode, gather after a tiring day’s work to sing.

Something the people of Kozhikode are proud of and close to their hearts is the legendary musician MS Baburaj and his songs. A pioneer in the composition of Hindustani ragas and ghazals in Malayalam lyrics in the 1960s and 1970s, he is affectionately called Babukka by them. For about two decades, Baburaj has contributed evergreen hits to Malayalam film music. His biography says that when he was young, he used to sing in the streets and on the trains for a living. Residents of Kozhikode believe that his tunes are still present on the streets of the city. Apparently it’s true – you only have to walk along Valiyangadi, one of Kerala’s biggest markets, to believe it yourself. In the farthest corners, from tiny dark rooms, you can hear the soft rhythm of the harmonium and someone humming ‘Oru pushpam maathramen poonkulayil nirthaam, njan oduvil neeyethumbol choodikkuvaan…’

Not just Malayalam, you can hear old Hindi songs like Likhe jo khat tujhe, Pal do pal ka saath hamara and Maine tere liye hi saat rang ke sapne floating through the air, as the market falls asleep. These songs come from a small room, in which a huge photo of the singer of yesteryear Mohammed Rafi adorns a wall. About 10 or 12 people are gathered around, some with harmoniums, others with tablas and other small musical instruments. This is the Calicut Kalamandir music club, a place where a few music lovers, most of whom work in the market, come together after a tiring day’s work to sing.

For Salim, carpenter, Abdul Kareem, head worker, Ummer, lumber agent, Muhammed Ali, debt collector for a cooperative bank, Kunjumon, and many others, this club and its music are part of life. Most club members are between 40 and 60 years old. The oldest member is club president Koya, 69, who was an acquaintance of Baburaj. While some members learned the music, a majority did not learn it officially.

Muhammed Ali, the secretary, explains that the club has existed for a few decades. “We don’t know who started the club, but it’s been around for about 40 years. The venue has changed several times; some members have passed away, others have arrived recently, and it’s still going,” he says.

For 20 years, the members have been gathered in one hall in Valiyangadi. “Here we are mainly Hindustani music lovers, we sing Hindi movie songs by Rafi, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar and others,” Ali adds.

Previously, the group met almost every day for a musical encounter, but now they meet three or four days a week. Musical evenings usually start at 7:30 p.m. and last until 10:30 p.m.

“Not just us, when we get together, other music lovers in the market also come to listen. If someone wants to sing, we also give them a chance. It’s pure music for almost 3 hours,” says Koya.

After a whole day spent working hard, the members find solace in singing and listening to music in the evenings. “There are a few other music clubs in Kozhikode, but most of them are like orchestras, they have more facilities, a suitable place to practice, etc. Ours is an ordinary men’s club, we don’t play outside, we just get together to quench our thirst for music,” Koya explains.

Valiyangadi workers who regularly attend these musical evenings say that nothing can replace a good song. “After finishing the job, we were tired and exhausted. But the energy we get from just going there and listening to their music cannot be explained,” says Mohammed, a market worker.

Club members want to expand their space and acquire more instruments. “It will be great to have a bigger space and more instruments for our club, maybe it can happen in the future,” says Ali.